The UK is planning a major PR attack on end-to-end encryption that could blow over internationally. The planned campaign wants to convince people to give up privacy by sowing fear.
In the UK, the government is planning a PR offensive aimed at end-to-end encryption of messages. Such encryption is also occasionally discredited by us. End-to-end encryption is a form of encryption in which messages leave the sender’s device encrypted and are only decrypted at the recipient. WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, among others, use end-to-end encryption and Facebook Messenger will also receive encryption next year.
The standard implies that messages in transit are unreadable to everyone, including the service provider. In other words, even WhatsApp cannot read what is in messages on its servers. The standard is self-evident from a privacy point of view: sending a message without end-to-end encryption is like sending a letter in a transparent envelope: everyone can then read along. Think not only of the service provider, but also hackers, the government or employees with bad intentions.
Espionage services, and by extension governments, are not always fans of end-to-end encryption. After all, without the standard, they can view messages neatly, with that becomes impossible. The UK now wants to get public opinion on its side in a campaign against encryption.
To that end, the United Kingdom will sow fear. The UK assumes that most people do not know end-to-end encryption and can therefore be easily convinced. Specifically, end-to-end encryption is portrayed as a tool that allows child abuse. When everyone enjoys privacy, criminals can also benefit from it. The UK wants to argue that the entire population should give up the right to privacy in order to make the fight against crime easier. For emotional reasons, the focus is on child abuse.
Thus, the UK seems to want to create a false narrative. Either you are against end-to-end encryption and child abuse, or you are for encryption and abuse. The real debate is about privacy versus security. Rolling Stone knows on the authority of slides that it could see that the government of the UK absolutely wants to avoid the discussion being conducted in that way.
The plans are interesting because they provide insight into how anti-privacy agencies want to transform an honest debate into a discussion next to the issue, with the pro-privacy camp suddenly becoming the pro-child abuse camp.
End-to-end encryption is seen by technology giants worldwide as an essential component for secure communication. That’s why most quality chat services use it, and Microsoft also integrates the encryption into Teams. The encryption only concerns the content of messages. Metadata, such as who communicates with whom when, remains accessible (by analogy with the address details on an envelope).